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Bayern's nurturing of youngsters is an example that GAA could follow

Declan Bogue


Canavan: Didn't play underage club games. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Canavan: Didn't play underage club games. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Canavan: Didn't play underage club games. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

With the Bundesliga - German soccer's premier division - appearing set for a return within the next month, an important sporting story in that country slipped under the radar last week.

Bayern Munich announced they are doing away with their U-9 and U-10 teams and, from the summer of 2022, a talented child will not be able to enter their academy until U-11 level.

The reasons for the move are impossible to argue with. What they hope to achieve is taking away the burden of pressure of performing at such a young age. Kids can continue to play with their friends at their 'home club', and play other games.

Peter Wenninger, the sporting director for the Under-9 to Under-15 age groups with FC Bayern, explained: "With this step we want to achieve more creative freedom in the leisure time of the very young children, that they also have the opportunity to try other sports.

"Long-term studies have shown that learning different sporting skills and abilities can have a positive impact on everyone's football performance."

It's hardly surprising that it is a German club choosing to reverse the trend. The success of Barcelona's La Masia ('The Farmhouse'), which overtook the Ajax Academy, has shaped much of the thinking of harnessing talent. In 2010, the three candidates for the Ballon d'Or - Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi - had been hot-housed at La Masia.

It was a formula that worked and bred success, club loyalty and playing assets worth hundreds of millions.

In an effort to replicate the formula, various sporting bodies have studied it. At one point when a talented under-age group were coming through the ranks at Donegal club Gaoth Dobhair, a delegation of coaches travelled to the eastern tip of Spain to gain an insight.

In the minds of others, the concept became warped. It was reported just over a year ago that Manchester City had streamed children as young as U-5s into three ability groups: development, who train once a week at a City development centre; select, who train once a week at the Academy; and elite, who train at least three times a week at the Academy and receive official kit.

The GAA is not impervious to the wiles of professional sport.

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'FUNdamental' groups are a child's first introduction to football, hurling and camogie, and come as soon as their first year in primary school.

At such sessions, the emphasis is on getting a child to enjoy themselves. The programmes available to youth coaches are well constructed and sensible. Quite often, there will be a coach employed by the provincial council or county board made available to demonstrate, lead and observe.

The chief aim here should be to build a link between the child and the club, and to establish positive connotations. It is a chance for them to socialise with other children outside of their classroom and further their social development. But there can be another side to this. Peer pressure forces all clubs down this road. If they don't, then children could be lost to a pro-active neighbouring club. It's something of an arms race for future players.

While it can act as a means of getting new volunteers into a club, it can also cause volunteer burn-out from those already serving functions.

With such effort invested in groups of children, the mistake that some make at this point is to expect a dividend. I once attended an U-12 tournament where a team coach told me he contacted parents to tell them that their child may not be playing many minutes.

Copping my horrified expression, they thought they made it better by saying that they have put a lot of work into this group and needed to start winning honours. An hour later, I wasn't surprised to see the same man shouting at the referee over a decision going against his team. As an example for the kids, it was dreadful.

And the awful thing is that the pressure only increases after this age group. Some clubs are training their U-14 teams three times a week, with trips away for games at weekends.

What time does this leave for family, school work, or even allowing kids to be kids - climbing trees, fishing, and general playing? For all that, one man springs to mind as a player who never played an underage club match, but it didn't hold him back - Peter Canavan.

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